Last week, I took my AP World History exam. When I left the exam, I felt lost and confused. But it wasn’t the questions about world history that bothered me the most—it was actually the standard identity questions before the test began. While I could rattle off my name, address, and school without an issue, there was one question that stumped me.
Race and ethnicity.
I was given a few options and was told to select one:
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
- Black or African American
- Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American
I am mixed race. I am a Hapa, a half-Asian person. The easiest and most logical response for most people would be simply to mark Asian American. That’s what people see me as, right? Well, not exactly—people don’t really know what I am when they first see me and I’ve gotten everything from Middle Eastern, Hispanic, to purely white. But when I tell people I’m half-Filipino and half-white, doesn’t that make people treat me as a Filipino-ish person and not a white person? Well, sure.
And yes, in the past when I was told to only choose one, I would choose either “Filipino” or “Asian,” since I identify more with my Asian side, partly because I’m more comfortable with that part of my identity and partly because society doesn’t want to see me as a white person since my skin is a shade of brown. And last fall, when I took the PSAT that required me to list one race, I chose Asian and suddenly felt very weird and guilty about it. That was the first time I ever felt guilty about that.
Earlier this month, as the Super Bowl went underway, one ad sparked more controversy than any other: Coca-Cola’s. Despite lasting only sixty seconds, a national conversation on the issue of multilingualism and diversity ensued. Disputes broke out on social media. Both conservative and liberal politicians and commentators argued over whether the ad was anti-American or pro-American. Against the will of detractors, Coca-Cola defiantly aired the ad again during the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, this time televising the ninety-second version and adding the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “out of many, one”) to the beginning.
So what was it that caused so much controversy? Singing “America the Beautiful” in other languages.
Nine languages were represented in the song: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi, Hebrew, Keres, French and Arabic. All of these languages—with the sole exception of Keres, which is a language native to the Pueblo Indian peoples of New Mexico—were brought to the land we currently call the United States, English included. Really, unless you are one of the small percentage of Americans who claim Native American heritage, at some point your ancestors (or maybe even you or one or more of your parents) immigrated here by foot, boat, or plane.
Diversity has been a particularly important issue recently. The idea of “being American” is so widely debated and open to interpretation that no one can truly pinpoint what it means. How much of your “foreign” culture can you retain—whether it’s Irish, Indonesian, or Iranian—and still consider yourself a part of American culture? Does it mean anything if America’s most common last names go from Smith, Johnson, and Williams to Garcia, Rodriguez, and Martinez?